ICYMI — As the nation wrestles with the aftermath of yet another series of tragic mass shootings, The New York Times covered how gun safety will impact Virginia’s November elections — a bellwether for the entire country as we head into 2020.
The piece highlights how Speaker Kirk Cox and Republican Caucus Chair Tim Hugo have steadfastly blocked commonsense gun safety legislation and killed a gun violence special session this summer after another mass shooting in the commonwealth.
Using their razor-thin majority, Republicans ended the session after 90 minutes and referred the gun control questions to a state crime commission, which it asked to present a report on the issue a week after Election Day.
Despite a surge of activism and changing opinions across Virginia, both Republicans maintain that gun violence is of little concern to voters — wishful thinking from desperate incumbents who can no longer outrun their extremist records.
Gun violence is of comparatively little concern to voters, Mr. Hugo said. Instead they want to talk about the same issues that have animated suburban voters for the generation he’s been in office.
Cox has served in the General Assembly for 29 years and Hugo for 16 years. Their right-wing records on everything from guns to abortion put them wildly out of touch with their new suburban constituents.
Now Mr. Cox and Mr. Hugo are the top targets for Democrats and gun control proponents. Both represent suburban districts long in Republican control where voters have rejected the party in the Trump era.
Hugo represents a Northern Virginia district that has moved left out from underneath him, giving Hillary Clinton 51 percent of the vote and Senator Tim Kaine nearly 60 percent. He won reelection in 2017 by just 100 votes.
Speaker Cox’s district is even worse for Republicans. After the Supreme Court threw out the state’s racially gerrymandered maps, House District 66 had the greatest shift to the left in all of Virginia. Cox now finds himself defending a right-wing record in an African-American suburban area that Clinton, Northam and Kaine all easily won.
Both Republicans face strong Democratic challengers that have emphasized gun violence prevention throughout their campaigns — using their personal stories to connect with voters.
While Republicans hope to lower the temperature on gun politics, Democrats are trying to keep it high. Mr. Helmer’s pitch to voters begins with his Army service in Afghanistan and Iraq and pivots directly to a call for new gun restrictions. Mr. Cox’s Democratic challenger in the suburbs south of Richmond, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, tells voters of how her teenage daughter survived being shot outside a party in 2016.
There are more than a dozen vulnerable Virginia Republicans at risk of losing this November and Democrats need to flip just two seats in the House and two seats in the Senate to take full control of the General Assembly.
Virginia Democrats are backed by a large coalition of groups, including a $1 million early investment from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and a newly announced record commitment from the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.
The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the political arm of Mr. Bloomberg’s gun control organization, said this week that it would invest at least $2.5 million in Virginia before Election Day — more than it spent in either of the last two legislative elections there.
Virginia's elections in 2017, where Democrats flipped a historic 15 House seats, were a bellwether for 2018’s blue wave. This November the commonwealth will again be another crucial state to watch for electoral trends — on issues ranging from gun safety to Donald Trump’s popularity — ahead of 2020.